Keep Your Head Up

By: Mike Albiani, Elk Grove HS

As agricultural educators we have always been looked upon by other teachers as different. Innovative, hardworking and overly dedicated are often used as descriptors. The challenge in the current situation of Distance Learning is staying that way. Agricultural education needs to continue to embrace the three-ring model as the foundation of what we do. We need to be able to quickly adapt to our current program delivery situation and be ready to change in an instant when the opportunity arrives. Being an old dog, I have had to lean on a few of my younger coworkers for inspiration and HELP from time to time this spring and summer. Terms like “Zoom”, which in January was the sound a fast car or plane made, have taken on a whole new meaning, and like many of you have, I have had to learn to operate through a laptop or computer screen. In retrospect, let’s look at what we have accomplished:

  • Many of us have spent time and assisted in the marketing of millions of dollars’ worth of Junior Livestock projects through virtual sales or other means.
  • Some of us hosted virtual State Finals contests and many others coached the teams that competed for a State title.
  • New State Officers were elected and the 2019-2020 State Officers, State Staff, and with the help of numerous others delivered a virtual State FFA Leadership conference to all of us.

Now it’s on to the new challenges of teaching school in a distance learning environment with the goal of maintaining the rigor of the curriculum and guiding our students down an unknown path. Luckily, those that developed agricultural education on both the state and national level left us with the foundation on which to not only deliver the lessons of academics, but also the lessons of life experiences. By embracing the classroom, FFA participation and Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects, we can together set a tone for educational delivery that will never be matched. So, as we embark on this journey we need to keep in mind that our attitude is just as important as we approach the model as it is the content and means by which we teach it. 

Classroom instruction is the heart of every successful agriculture program. Teachers are selected and evaluated by administrators on how they deliver the content of their curriculum. The challenges of distance learning cannot change the fact that some of the most innovative and dedicated teachers I have ever known are agricultural teachers. Even in a year when every teacher is reliving their first year, we need to swallow our pride and take the help being offered. Multiple Facebook groups have been organized to cover curriculum, FFA activities ,  SAE supervision, and more. All of them offer a wide selection of ideas, some of which might not be for you, but it is worth looking to see if there are a few that would make your preparation easier and your students’ experiences better. Take some time and explore the Agricultural Mentorship site and do not be afraid to show up now and then to add your expertise to the discussions. My curriculum might be very similar to last year, but the presentations have received a digital upgrade with the help of my younger colleagues and the examples I have seen published by many of you. We need to keep supporting each other and being open to receiving a boost of help and energy every now and then if it means our students will benefit.

Leadership development through FFA participation has separated agricultural education from the other CTE organizations for decades.  We cannot let the lack of one-to-one contact stop us from giving students the skills that many believe are the most important for career success. This summer, many teachers trained through the summer teaching perseverance to complete the judging season in a year where we waited until Monday night to hear the results. In some ways, the suspense was just as exciting as the real thing, but we know that we all missed the big crowd and the almost inaudible announcement of every state champion. As we enter the new school year and begin to work through the tasks that could end with an excited student, proud parent, and a chapter full of support let us not forget the big picture. It pays to do things the hard way. Follow the rules, don’t cut corners and lead by example. Our students look up to us and will follow our example. If we set a poor example for our students then we weaken the pillar of leadership development as they will someday be the leaders in agriculture and education.

The Supervised Agricultural Experience is the one piece that ties the other circles to the world of work.  Many of us lost our county fairs this year and fear what the next year will bring. Remain positive, encourage students to take the ring again, get involved supporting auction efforts, work hard to discover marketing options that do not rely on the Junior Livestock Auction. If you have options, when the fair world returns to our new normal, you will be ready with your bases covered. Take a chance on new SAE opportunities, encourage entrepreneurship, gardens, construction and placement projects that still teach soft skills and a touch of marketing. Use technology to increase your home visit presence.  Try virtual project visits, meet some new parents online and give the emotional support we are famous for.

We have the structure in place to make a difference for students despite the delivery model our district or County Health Department chooses. Remember we are a big family loaded with support. Contact a colleague or new teacher in your section to offer support and a friendly smile. Support our student teachers, they are getting double the stress with a new career choice and presenting their lessons from a distance. We will all persevere and just think how much we will learn that we can put into our toolbox for the rest of our careers. 

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